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North Korea Today No. 402, May 11, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Central Party Hears News of People Starving to Death in the Spring Hardship Season

Elderly Woman Dies while Husband Survives Visiting Granddaughter in Pyongyang

Death of Hunger Occurs in Households Gone out of Business in Chungjin

Eundeok County 'July 7th' Munitions Plant Employees without Food Rations


Spring Farm Hardship Worries Spread to Hamju County


Even Pyongyang Residents Eat Only 1-2 Times Per Day

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Central Party Hears News of People Starving to Death in the Spring Hardship Season
There have been reporting since last April that there have been people starving to death in parts of North and South Hamgyong Province. One Central Party official said “Such a phenomenon was expected as we have been setting into the spring hardship season nationwide. In order to overcome such a crisis we have tried and are still trying to send workers to China, but there has been small achievement. As a result, there have been starving people in Hamgyong.” Other areas also have produced people who die of starvation, but the largest death toll is reported from Hamgyong Province. Especially in Chungjin and Hamheung, where laborers are concentrated, the report of hunger death has been consistent. These workers go through a day with one or two meals of rice porridge. Central Party is aware that it is only a matter of time that the starving will spread out nationwide. Central Party, worried about this matter, is increasing the import of corn and flour from China, but the effect has been minimal. A Central Party official commented on the seriousness of the matter saying, “We are passively waiting for fruit to fall off a tree. This means that we are only depending on imports, and it can’t solve the problem. If there is no assistance from the outside, there is no way to overcome this difficulty.”

Elderly Woman Dies while Husband Survives Visiting Granddaughter in Pyongyang
Young-Ho Choi (alias), an elderly from South Sapo 1 dong, Hamgeung City, South Hamgyong Province, visited his granddaughter after starving in the cold. Grandfather Choi had six children with his wife Ms. Kim. Most of the children live in Hamheung City but as they all seemed to have hardships with affording food, he visited his granddaughter who seemed to have the best living conditions. However, the wife Ms. Kim stated “How can both of us go to our young granddaughter for help? We raised six children but we cannot get help from them, and it’s a shame that we ask our granddaughter for help. Shouldn’t I reduce the number of mouths to feed with my absence? We should be thankful that she helps you” and did not leave Hamheung. She passed away not after 20 days have passed at his second son’s house. The grandfather who later faced the news of his wife’s death sadly remarked that “It was my fault to go to my granddaughter to live a few more days. I should have died with my wife, but I left her to pass away by herself. I am sorry and in debt to my granddaughter as well as my wife.” At his tears, his granddaughter, her husband and the neighbors shared the sorrow in tears. A neighbor Soon-Chun Dong (alias) unhappily stated that “This is all due to the lack of food supply in this nation. There are vast numbers of sons and daughters who wish to support their parents but cannot. That house had six children, and if at least one of them could support them they would not have parted. This time period makes ungrateful children.”

Death of Hunger Occurs in Households gone out of Business in Chungjin
According to Report on Residents’ Lives of Chungjin City Party in North Hamgyong Province, the second child of Kim Seok-tae (alias) from Songhyang-dong in Songpyong District starved to death. The Kim family has been in destitute circumstances and had to rely on wild greens picked from mountains since last November. They ate a mixture of flour and wide green to substitute rice. Without doenjang (soybean paste), they had salt soup (salt added water) as the only side dish. They also added ground corn to the green and flour mixture, which is difficult to digest for adults and even harder for children. The deceased child entered elementary school last year but had to stay home since last fall due to a severe malnutrition.

In Chumock-dong in Sunam District, a householder of Kkotjebi (homeless) family Kim Young-cheol (alias) died. Kim was a laborer in Kimchaek Steel Mill. Without food rations for quite a while, the Kim family had to rely on trading activities of Kim’s wife. However, the money that she earned became scraps of paper after the currency reform, making their lives destitute. In desperation, they sold their household goods and ran into large debt to restore the business funds. Nevertheless, their business kept going slow even if they sold products of great value at cheap prices because consumers had lost their purchasing power and only bought essential goods. As the Kim’s could not sell their products they bought on credit, their debt kept increasing. They ended up losing their house to the creditors and were forced out onto the streets. Up until mid April, the couple wandered around Suman market begging for food. Before long, Kim starved to death at the train station. His wife and children watched the station officials moving the deceased body in tears and disappeared. An official of Chungjin City Party commented, “This is a daily activity in Chungjin. Some of the victims are long-term kkotjebis. Increasingly, however, people who suddenly fell into the downfall last year like this man (Kim Young-cheol) are pushed near the edge of hunger death this spring. Laborers are the major victims, and most of them had survived on trading. Many of them seem to face death after having suffered without a means to survive as they lost their seed money after the currency reform.”

Eundeok County 'July 7th' Munitions Plant Employees without Food Rations
The government has stopped providing food rations to workers employed at the 'July 7th' munitions factory, which is located in Eundeok County, North Hamgyong province. The entire production process has more or less been shut down for some time now; however, the government has given priority to providing raw materials to munitions factories to keep them operating normally. Recently, however, raw materials that the government ordered from Russia have not arrived for several months, and employee's rations and wages have been cut. Laborers have been surviving off a diet of watery porridge, but despite a number of deaths caused by malnutrition, the factory Party committee has been unable to provide any solutions. The committee has simply told workers to grow their own food on small plots of land. “The government knows clearly that we cannot go to work since we have nothing to eat, but they keep insisting that we continue working,” says factory employee Lee Myong-geun (alias). “They also tell us to donate funds to support government construction projects, but where do they expect this money to come from? If I had money to spare, I would be using it to buy corn to feed my kid! I've heard that managers at other factories go to China and bring back money and flour, but we are just doing nothing at a munitions factory. The officials at my factory are just pathetic," Lee added. Residents in Eundeok County who possess Chinese money, have relatives who have defected, or are in possession of more than 500 pyong (equivalent to approximately 0.4 acres) of farmland have little trouble finding food. Lower-class residents, however, are forced to live a life of foraging for wild greens or grass in nearby forests. For these unfortunate souls, the coming of spring only signals more hardship.

Spring Farm Hardship Worries Spread to Hamju County
Hamju County is the prime farming area of South Hamgyong Province. Despite damage caused by floods last year, the area had more than six months worth of food in store, and there were even farmers who received food provisions worth of seven to eight months. According to a worker at the Hamju County Cooperative Farm Business Administration Committee, however, the unstable food situation during the spring hardship period is expected to affect the area as much as anywhere else. The lack of food at a number of cooperative farms has caused a growing number of farmers to stop working. Even for those who have received six-months worth of food, much of it has to be exchanged in order to pay for education fees and other necessities. The amount of food that people are consuming has fallen because they are forced to exchange it for money. "At the end of the fall season last year, I received a lot more food than I expected and was under the impression that I wouldn't have to worry about food this year," said one farmer. "However, there are a lot of families that have nothing to eat because they have had to pay back the debt they've incurred last spring," he said, commenting on the dire situation of families who have incurred debt after borrowing food through high-interest loans. Many farm families in Hamju County are being forced to gather forest sprouts and grass to supplement their diet to stay alive, like a Korean traditional popular belief says: "Grass that grows before the Dano holiday in May contains no poison, so it’s okay to eat any of them.”

Even Pyongyang Residents Eat Only 1-2 Times Per Day
Every major Cities including Pyongyang are short of food for their residents. The purchasing power has dropped so people are not buying rice even if there is rice in the market. News was heard that food continued to come through various customhouses in the National Border Area, but inland areas including Pyongyang are not experiencing the effect that much. It is because it is first distributed to the powerful workplaces and units including special enterprises, and to the special units among the military. As there is no food for ordinary residents, big cities such as Pyongsung City have campaigned to eat only 2 times per day. Even in Pyongyang City which had been considered as a safe zone, increasing number of residents subsist only by having one or two meals per day. Increasing number of households had exhausted any food that they stored before as the distribution had not been made steadily since last year. Normally, even the households that are worse off store at least 6 months’ worth of food in Pyongyang, but the food distribution situation in Pyongyang City was aggravated to the point of running out of these provisions. Moreover, an instruction was already delivered that prompts people to resolve the food problem by themselves until this September, so some say that the ‘Arduous March’ of the Pyongyang residents is about to start now.

Han Jungsun (alias) who lives in Daedong River District, Pyongyang, used to live rather well by selling used clothes in the market. Before the currency reform, she was able to buy at least 1 kg of rice, fish or pork every day with the money she earned that day. She was able to buy these side dishes after paying all the money requested from the children’s school and various social obligations from Democratic Women’s Union or the householder’s workplace. However, she cannot complete the obligations anymore and the food they eat now is very humble. These days, she cannot even find pork which she used to eat every day, so it became difficult to buy 1 kg of meat even on holiday. Still, Ms. Han says she is better off than others because she can eat the steamed bowl with 50% of rice and 50% of corns. In the Neighborhood Unit where she belongs, many people are said to subsist by eating one or two porridges per day as they lost all seed money for business.

Kim Hyeran’s family who live in Munhung 1 dong, Daedong River District in Pyongyang City, have been eating only two meals per day since last fall. When they do the kind of work that does not require much energy, they only eat once per day in an attempt to save food. Ms. Kim sells Chinese groceries in the market located at Daedong River District; she says she was not able to buy even one piece of candy for her children on 4.15 Holiday since the business was not going well. Two years ago, they had steamed rice, tofu soup, pork and eggs as side dishes during the holidays, but they cannot eat them anymore. Ms. Kim says, “A lot of accommodations from the Party have disappeared. On April 15th of this year which celebrates the 99th birth anniversary of the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, only a bag of snack and a bag of candies in the amount of 500g were distributed to the residents in central districts, and there was no distribution to the peripheral districts.”

Many people who reside in the peripheral districts of Pyongyang City express their opinions, “We are not the citizens of the capital city anymore. The central districts and peripheral districts are all part of Pyongyang, but why did the holiday provision only reach the central districts?” Currently, the districts that have a lowest standard of living in Pyongyang City are Sunkyo District, Daesang District, Dongdaewon District and Ryeokpo District. “When we visit houses to survey actual conditions, we see that many families eat porridge with soy sauce without any side dishes. They say their wish is to eat full, even porridge. Because of the malnutrition, many people suffer or die of various illnesses. Most ill people who end up dead are people who haven’t had food for a long time. Such is the situation of Pyongyang, the capital city, so other regions must be experiencing difficulties, needless to say,” says an official from the Ryeokpo District Party. One official from the Pyongyang City Party says, “Our understanding is that currently, more than half of the residents in Pyongyang City are not able to eat 3 times a day promptly.”
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